Proselytizing 101

Broward Community College is a public school, but its religion professors consider it a private reserve

It's a cloudy Sunday morning, and about 30 people, many of them blacks of Caribbean descent, have gathered in the auditorium at Perry Middle School in East Miramar. They're here for the weekly service of Fountainside Christian Fellowship, a church founded last year by BCC adjunct religion professor David Corbin.

For the first 30 minutes, worshipers sing hymns, led by Corbin at the organ. Dressed in a powder-blue blazer, the Trinidadian-American Corbin then addresses his parishioners in his sing-song dialect.

Colby Katz
James W. Johnson, a former adjunct religion professor at BCC, alleges that the public college pushes an Evangelical agenda in the classroom.
Colby Katz
James W. Johnson, a former adjunct religion professor at BCC, alleges that the public college pushes an Evangelical agenda in the classroom.

"Jesus has blessed us this fine day, brothers and sisters," Corbin says. "Today we have with us Jack and Karen Mitchell, Christian missionaries that we support, and they're here to tell us about the fine work that they do in Eastern Europe."

Corbin points to the front row of folding chairs. Jack Mitchell, a slender white man with thin white hair and a white beard, stands up at the lectern as the lights dim. A movie presentation begins. Mitchell talks in front of the screen, discussing his work and missions as if they were military salvos in hostile territories.

Calling Eastern Europe a "spiritual wasteland," Mitchell flips through photographs of Greece, Hungary, Romania, and the Czech Republic. He then gets to a photograph of Poland and pauses.

"Poland is the country in the world with the most spiritual need," Mitchell says. "Thirty-nine million people live there, and only one-tenth of 1 percent are Evangelical."

In fact, Poland, birthplace of Pope John Paul II, is 95 percent Roman Catholic, making it one of the world's most religiously devout countries. But for Mitchell, spirituality is Evangelicalism — a fundamentalist form of Protestant Christianity that believes salvation comes through faith in Jesus rather than through good works. One of the nation's fastest-growing religious movements, Evangelical Christianity instills in followers a need to spread the word — to evangelize.

That's exactly what Mitchell and his wife are doing in Eastern Europe, attempting to convert a region with a rich history of Catholicism, Judaism, and Islam to fundamentalist Christianity.

And Corbin — who claims publicly that his church is nondenominational despite a mission statement that proclaims "preaching will be evangelical in theology and committed to a literal interpretation of the Scriptures" — is a financial partner in helping the Mitchells and their colleagues convert others to their conservative brand of Christianity.

It should come as no surprise to administrators at BCC, where Corbin teaches courses in world religions and Old and New Testament. After all, Corbin received his doctorate of ministry at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, a leading Evangelical seminary in Illinois operated by the Evangelical Free Church of America.

A review of his sermons, available on Fountainside Christian Fellowship's website, confirms a conservative view of Christianity consistent with Evangelicalism and an irritation with other ways of thinking: "Any attempt to present a positive message on the family conflicts with political correctness," he said during a recent sermon, adding: "I say publicly that I prefer to be biblically correct than to be politically correct."

But none of this necessarily means that Corbin, who declined to comment for this article, pushes Evangelical Christianity during his lectures at BCC. Corbin simply represents part of a pattern that Johnson has pointed to in his lawsuit against the public college.

Five of the six religion instructors at BCC's central campus, all hired in the past few years, have degrees from seminaries instead of universities. In fact, all five attended seminaries known for Christian fundamentalism. Four of the five have practical, rather than academic, degrees, meaning that their course of study was in how to operate and run a church.

"If there is a pattern of hiring from Evangelical institutions, then that's enough to suggest that there's a real problem," says Charles C. Haynes, senior scholar at the Washington, D.C.,-based First Amendment Center and an expert in religious education in public schools. "The pattern is the thing. In a good religious-studies department, what they look for is areas of expertise. Having multiple professors with similar backgrounds is a red flag."

Indeed, if BCC's professors are pushing religion in the classroom, most are wise enough not to advertise the misconduct on their syllabi. But there's one exception, Randall Allison, who has a master's degree in divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, an Evangelical institution in Fort Worth, Texas.

This fall, Allison has been teaching a BCC-accredited World Religions course at Florida Bible Christian School in Miramar. The school's mission is "to provide a Christ-centered learning environment where young people are educated spiritually, intellectually, physically, and socially to transform their world for Christ."

The location of the course isn't by itself troubling, says Haynes, since many community colleges offer courses at locations throughout an area to make higher education accessible to more people. "Whether it's improper depends on the content of the course."

Allison's syllabus suggests that his course goes beyond an objective study of religion. His third course objective is "to assist the students in their personal religious quest as they analyze the myriad views of the divine and what it means to them."

Additionally, the final project for the course, which is worth 30 percent of a student's grade, requires them to "take four issues and compare what Christianity says about it with the other world religions." In other words, Allison prohibits his students in a World Religions course to compare, for instance, Buddhism and Islam as part of their final project.

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